Porta de le bonbarde

After finishing the “final edit” of my novel last week, I realized that 1) the ending sucks; and 2) there’s not enough pent-up tension throughout to sustain the reader through 33 chapters and 126,000 words.

So I’m going through it again one last time – because novelists shouldn’t let their novels suck.

At the end of Chapter 7, our heroine leaves Istanbul from the southeastern end of the district of Galata. Old maps of Istanbul call this gate the “Porta de le bonbarde” – the Cannon Foundry Gate – seen below at the top right of the image.



The Cat-Brokers of Ardabil

From An Ottoman Traveler: Selections from the Book of Travels of Evliya Celebi.

By God’s wisdom, because cats in Ardabil have short lives, there are very many mice, more than in other regions. The mice chew up the people’s clothing — their woolen cloaks, for example. So this city has a royal auction for hirre, i.e. gurbe, i.e. kutta — i.e. cats. There are professional cat-brokers, much in demand, who sell cats in cages. The Divrigi cat is a particular favorite, fetching a price of up to 100 gurus; still, it does not live long here. When the brokers cry their wares, this is the patter they sing, in a loud voice, in the beyati mode:

“You who seek a feline,
A cat to hunt your mice:
To rats it makes a beeline,
but otherwise it’s nice;
An enemy to rodents,
And yet it’s not a thief;
A pet to share your grief.”

Read more about Ardabil, its famous carpets, and Divrigi.

‘Death to the Turk, the Turk to Death’

Istanbul sits astride two continents, and from this capitol city of the Islamic Ottoman Empire, Sultans across the centuries sent massive armies to war against Christendom.

Constantinople fell to the Turks in 1453, sending shockwaves across Europe. One interesting reaction to that event was the 1456 carnival play — “The Turkish Carnival Game” — by a Nürnberg armorer and gunsmith named Hans Rosenplüt. Much of the play is a stinging rebuke of the Holy Roman Empire. The Sultan himself, Mehmed the Conqueror, visits Germany, telling citizens there of a paradise where no taxes are levied. He also reads out a list of the worst sins committed by Christians. A messenger from Frederick III, the Holy Roman Emperor, responds:

Your beard will be shorn off with sickles and your face washed with vinegar and seeded with chalk and ashes. Your god isn’t going to be able to plug up that hole (for) your head is going to hop over a sword’s blade. And if I knew your head wouldn’t slice off neatly, I myself would beat you so you’d have to shit yourself.

Given that the Turks and Christians were embroiled in a war that threatened the existence of the Holy Roman Empire, the main theme of the play is unexpected. As Edwin Hermann Zeyde explains, in his 1918 book, The Holy Roman empire in German literature:

If we consider that at the time when this extravaganza was written the very existence of the Empire was imperilled by the Turkish menace, we can better appreciate the acrid irony of the situation here portrayed. There can be no doubt about the impression that it made on contemporaries; it brought home to every reader the hopeless discord and internal rottenness of the imperial government.

On the other hand, “The Dance of Death” may have been a more common reaction to the “Turkish menace.” By the time “Døde-Dands” was printed in Copenhagen in 1762, the Turks had captured many of the formerly Christian territories around the  Mediterranean, occupied Hungary and the Balkans, and repeatedly attacked Austria and Poland.

From “Døde-Dands”, printed in Copenhagen in 1762. It is not related to the life-sized painting from 1463, “Death from Lübeck”, which showed Death in a dance with 24 humans from all walks of life. Various publications and works of art titled “The Dance of Death” were published in Europe after 1500. See The Dance of Death.

Death to the Turk

Barbarian! who steps on the cross of Christ with your feet,
and who are pleased with the impostor Mahomet;
In the dance of death you must now dance with me,
and receive the wages of your wickedness by false witnesses.
The paradise of lust that Mahomet describes,
shall be revealed for you in a moment;
But if you don’t get a company of maidens,
then a flock of devils will certainly meet you there.
My arrow shall soon stand in your infidel heart.
What your inveteracy did not learn in time,
you will receive knowledge of in eternity,
where you shall stand beside your Mahomet.

The Turk to Death

Will you separate me from this life so murderously,
and represent my paradise as Hell?
Then you are the tyrant that the word calls you,
who’s great greed is most insatiable.
I will not be blessed by Christ’s cross and death.
The prophet Mahomet shall give me his heaven.
If his paradise it not full of sensual pleasures,
then no Turk has accused him for the hope.
Something in my soul moves by the arrival of Death;
but that must be terror, that Death brings along.
I won’t care for conscience.
Open up the eternity and just close Life’s door.

When Death lays hand on evil and infidel heart,
the soul surely experiences a part of Hell’s pain.
Although its inveteracy doesn’t admit it;
but between hope and fear goes the way of all flesh.

From Dutch engraver Caspar Luyken (1672-1708), we get a glimpse of the peoples involved in these centuries of conflict. One hundred of Luyken’s engravings were published in Nuremberg in 1703. Quite a few were of Turkish individuals, which is not surprising since, as the 2003 Dover edition points out, the Turks laid siege to Vienna in 1683.

Mapping the History of Istanbul

My forthcoming novel begins in the Istanbul of the 1630’s. Murad IV is Sultan. Coffee and alcohol are evil, and their consumption is punishable by death or worse. Mina, a slave girl captured by Ottoman troops in Hungary, tries to escape after years of captivity.

She kept her head down, but her mind was alert to the people and sounds around her, especially for the distinctive sounds of soldiers and their swords. The city was shutting down for the night. Stopping at the intersection where the Grand Bazaar ended and the Beyazit Mosque formed a barrier to the park beyond, Mina looked backward down the boulevard and gasped at the beauty of the Aya Sofya. Minarets jutted like spears of light into the dark sky, the circular dome was lit by a thousand lamps, the square perimeter dotted with more, and she knew that even this impressive display would be nothing when compared to the Night of Power as three thousand slaves would set afire twenty thousand oil lamps and all of Istanbul would witness the power and might – and the humility, she thought, remembering how she and her fellow captives were incessantly reminded of the humility – of Allah’s greatest servant, Sultan Murad IV.

Old maps of Istanbul, Anatolia, Cappadocia, Armenia — and beyond — have been critical to my novel. Here are a few maps of the city known by many names through the ages: Byzantium, Constantinople, Istanbul, Stamboul, and the Sublime Porte. For more maps, a good starting point is the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, but three years of research have yielded many other troves of digital mapping deliciousness. Leave me a comment if you’d like me to post them for you…

Update: Scroll down for the maps. But first, a few links in response to a comment asking about the historic architecture of Istanbul.

Update: Cartography web sites. Not all of these sites contain maps of Istanbul, but I’ve found that one resource often leads to another. In my research phase, I had some very specific goals; and although I bookmarked most of the places I found, I didn’t (couldn’t) review every site thoroughly.

Update: Documents. A collection of old and new documents describing Istanbul.